DVD Review: Luther Series 2

“They’ve set up a new unit”

Series 1, and particularly episode 1, of Luther has to rank as one of my favourite bits of television in recent years, so it was great news to hear that a second season had been commissioned. But given that my main enjoyment came from the ladies of the show, it was perhaps unsurprising that my enjoyment didn’t quite reach the same level. Taking place months after Series 1 finished, rebel detective John Luther has now joined the Serious and Serial Crimes division after some time off following the shocking events of the season finale. There, he continues to deal with the worst of human nature and utilising his own inimitable approach to catching these criminals.

For our purposes here on a Ruth Wilson level, there’s no denying that the character of Alice really has run its natural course and so it feels like a bit of a cheat having her be the first face we see just to recap the events of the series 1 finale. She reappears a couple of times after that but not in any meaningful way for the main story, so it’s a bit of a letdown. And Saskia Reeves’ Rose is not given the farewell she deserves as Luther’s former boss which feels a real shame, the impact of his repeated actions on her life and career could have been something rather interesting to explore. Continue reading “DVD Review: Luther Series 2”

Review: If Only, Minerva

“By the way, David Cameron has met a black man in Plymouth”

A cheeky trip to Chichester meant that I was able to catch David Edgar’s latest play If Only in its final week and whilst it was fun to see a piece of such hyper-contemporary political theatre (Edgar was writing the second act right until the play opened to keep it up-to-date), the real joy was seeing three exciting actors – Martin Hutson, Jamie Glover and Charlotte Lucas – in the spotlight as the main characters. The play starts in the midst of the 2010 election with the result as yet unknown, and the second act takes a jump four years into the future to examine the impact of coalition politics on the nation.

The first half is excellent. Trapped in a Spanish airport by the Icelandic ash cloud, three young politicos are forced into a road trip adventure to make it back in time for the election result. Martin Hutson is a Labour special advisor, Charlotte Lucas is a Lib Dem staffer and Jamie Glover is a Tory MP licking his wounds after the expenses scandal and there’s huge fun as they thrash out the various permutations of a hung parliament and what that would mean for politics in the UK. It’s wordy but funny, Edgar disguises strategising with a little comedy and comes up a plausible, Thick-of-It-style version of what could well have happened involving camels (funnier and cleverer than it sounds).

After the interval, Edgar skips forward to a UK in the grip of the rise of UKIP and a Tory party responding by stealing its position and policies on the far right. The same three characters are reunited and fret about the way in which politics has become dominated by single-issue pressure groups and face a particular dilemma which asks them if it worth sacrificing personal decency for political expediency. It’s less effective and the introduction of a young woman (who connects both halves) played by Eve Posonby struck me as inessential, a way of bringing in a more youthful voice looking to the future that was never really needed. Good production though. 

  

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th July

Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4

“If only money were not an obstacle”

With fortuitous timing, given how much Trollope I’d read and watched at the tail end of 2012, came this radio adaptation, by noted author Rose Tremain, of The Eustace Diamonds. The manipulative Lizzie Eustace claims ownership of a marvellous diamond necklace, a family heirloom which she claims was given to her by her late husband Florian. As the Eustaces close rank in an attempt to reclaim what they believe should not have left the family, Lizzie looks to find another situation to keep her in the lifestyle she has become accustomed to but finds that the case of these precious stones follows her and blights all her attempts to form new attachments.

We’re 2 episodes in, with one left, and I am really enjoying it this far. Whether the novel is simpler in terms of its dramatis personae or if Tremain has simplified the plot in her adaptation (I’ve not read the novel myself…), it feels like the easiest of Trollope’s stories to follow of the three I have encountered recently, yet it doesn’t suffer for it. Pippa Nixon’s Lizzie is a wonderfully ambiguous figure, an inveterate fibber and yet one doesn’t want to quite dismiss her as a complete liar and as she works her way through the smitten men in her life – Joseph Kloska’s Frank and Jamie Glover’s Lord Fawn, and later Adrian Scarborough’s cheeky Lord George – one can imagine exactly why they fall for her charms. Continue reading “Radio Review: The Eustace Diamonds, Radio 4”

Re-review: Noises Off, Old Vic

“Once it gets in your nostrils, the smell of it never leaves”

One of the most unexpected things that happened to me in a theatre last year was me tumbling utterly for the charms of Noises Off. As detailed in my review from then, I’m really not a fan of farce but Michael Frayn’s play is so much more than what I’ve come to associate with the genre. Intelligently written in its deconstruction of it but still imbued with an affectionate warmth that shines through as this touring theatre company of misfits struggle across the country with a stuttering show which increasingly disintegrates as their shenanigans threaten to derail the whole shebang.

The show has transferred from its sell-out run at the Old Vic to the Novello Theatre where it will play til the end of June, and rather impressively it has managed to hang on to a large proportion of its cast. So one can still experience the glorious turns from Celia Imrie, Janie Dee, Karl Johnson et al and if anything, their performances have become richer in their perfectly timed interactions and comic desperation. The two new arrivals – Alice Bailey Johnson and Lucy Briggs-Owen – have slotted in extremely well. Bailey Johnson’s wailing ASM is good in a rather limited role but Brigg-Owen is excellent as the blank-eyed Brooke whose limitations are exposed as often as her contact lenses fall out. Continue reading “Re-review: Noises Off, Old Vic”

Review: Noises Off, Old Vic

“Oh God, I can’t believe we’re opening tomorrow”

Sondheim once posed the question “Don’t you love farce?” which given the name of this blog is rather apt for me, and I can safely say that it is not a genre of which I have proven fond. I’ve given it several tries but I really wasn’t a fan at all of A Flea In Her Ear, Once Bitten or One Man Two Guvnors, though the Orange Tree’s Three Farces did hint at the possibilities within the form that I did actually find funny. Billington reckoned in his last review of One Man Two Guvnors that one “would had to have had a humour by-pass not to enjoy it” which seems a bit harsh – I’m not against people finding farce funny but senses of humour are individual and so different things make different people laugh.

So you’d be quite right to think there was little chance of me going to see Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, the Old Vic having apparently decided that farce is their Christmas go-to. But I’m a theatre addict, and I love Celia Imrie, so I plonked down £20 for a restricted view seat (which happened to have several empty seats next to it, which I would never recommend that you could sneakily upgrade yourself to…) and gritted my teeth in readiness. Continue reading “Review: Noises Off, Old Vic”

Review: Antigone, Southwark Playhouse

“Tyranny has many ways of prospering, since it can do and say what it will”

Productions of Greek tragedies have now been running for literally thousands of years due to the enduring relevance of much of their content, especially in the corrupting influence of holding power. Using Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1991 translation, Primavera’s production of Sophocles’ Antigone for the Southwark Playhouse places the action squarely in a modern-day Middle East, full of political turmoil and regime changes.

Thebes has suffered years of war and oppression but when a final bloody battle leaves the two brothers battling for the throne dead, the new leader, Kreon makes moves to impose his rule. One brother will be buried with full honours, but the rebel one will be left to rot in the sand, the greatest punishment imaginable. His decision shocks many, in particular the dead brothers’ sister Antigone, whose determination to see the correct funeral rites observed leads to tragic conclusions. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Chalk Garden, Donmar Warehouse

The Chalk Garden is a 1955 play by Enid Bagnold, revived here by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse and featuring a top-notch cast, not least of two women who are surely dames-in-waiting.
The plot starts with Mrs St Maugham’s attempt to employ a governess for her unruly granddaughter Laurel. Miss Madrigal is the successful applicant and brings with her, into this quirky English household, not least a wealth of knowledge about how to make things grow in the chalky soil of the garden. As Laurel and Miss Madrigal come to know more about each other, secrets begin to unfold and realisations occur as to how what needs to change in order to make everything right.


It is sheer theatrical delight watching this cast, Tyzack and Wilton are just note-perfect throughout. Tyzack is witty, candid, uniquely eccentric and Wilton is mesmerising as a woman possessed of a serene calm and quiet steeliness which equips for most tasks in hand. With these two luminary talents onstage, one might have forgiven the rest of the ensemble for wilting a little but they really don’t, they flourish. Felicity Jones is just right as the psychologically disturbed Laurel, Jamie Glover’s manservant cannot hide his own psychological damage from years in jail as a conscientious objector and Clifford Rose’s judge is also nicely played.
To be sure, it does feel like an old-fashioned play and the ending reflects that completely, but there’s something strangely soothing about the message it conveys that fits this production perfectly. The detailing of the period set is brilliant, full of atmospheric detail and combined with the excellent acting, makes this a certain hit for the Donmar.

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud

Marking Dame Judi Dench’s return to the RSC after many years away, this production of All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare lesser performed plays, transferred to London from the Swan in Stratford. It is called a problem play as it is neither fully comedy nor tragedy but a curious mixture of fairytale-like wonder, cold realism and gritty humour. Helena loves the arrogant Bertram, son of the Countess of Rousillon, but the only way she can gain him as a husband is as a reward for curing the King of France of a terrible ailment. He reacts badly to being forced into marriage with someone of lowly birth and so runs away to Italy to join the wars but not before fixing two fiendishly difficult conditions to their marriage, things he believes Helena will never be able to achieve but he does not count on her tenacity.

Even in a relatively minor part, which the Countess is it has to be said, Dench is a mesmerising performer, she manages so much with such economy of performance, the simplest gesture or twitch of the face speaks volumes and as the matriarch of the piece, she oozes a compassion and wisdom that makes a firm bedrock for the production. Gary Waldhorn as the King of France does well though as the most senior male character, rising from his sickbed to become an inspirational leader. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Gielgud”